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Marlborough's FlipFarm Systems takes top innovation award at Global Seafood Alliance Awards

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A New Zealand company has been recognised for being a leader in oyster farm technology, picking up the 2021 Global Aquaculture Innovation Award at the Global Seafood Alliance Awards.

The Award, which was handed to FlipFarm Systems at a virtual event earlier this month, recognises individuals and companies finding new solutions to the key challenges facing aquaculture.

FlipFarm Systems, designed and developed by the owners of Marlborough Oysters, bet out 39 applicants from 24 countries to secure a place as a finalist, before being voted the overall winner by audience vote.

FlipFarm Systems is a semi-automated oyster growing system that helps provide an ideal environment for oyster growth, conditioning and hardening, while giving complete control over fouling, pests and predators.

FlipFarm Managing Director Aaron Pannell and Owner/Operator of Marlborough Oysters is delighted with the win, which further cements the company on the international stage.

"Our FlipFarm technology officially launched two years ago and is used by more than 70 oyster farmers in 12 countries worldwide," says Pannell, who runs the business with his wife, Debbie.

"While carrying out the day-to-day operations at our oyster farming business, Marlborough Oysters, we identified the need for improved technology. We needed to evolve the growing process from the traditional system of plastic oyster growing bags clipped to growing lines with webbing lanyards."

The former system proved ineffective and the equipment would wear out and during stormy weather they would lose hundreds of oyster growing bags. This not only impacted their bottom line, and negatively impacted the environment, but meant staff were regularly called on to make repairs and retrieve lost equipment.

Aaron knew there must be a better way, so he applied his can-do attitude and marine farming experience to design FlipFarm - harvesting equipment which would bring a new level of efficiency to oyster farming.

"We applied a completely new way of thinking about how oyster farmers can grow and harvest oysters, and the result was the world’s first semi-automated oyster growing system, made right here in Blenheim."

FlipFarm Systems uses Hexcyl oyster baskets, a rigid, solid basket instead of the mesh bags previously used. The baskets attach to a semi-automated ‘backbone’ system that rolls up on the side of a harvesting vessel and is used to flip over the oyster baskets, making it easy to use and without requiring too much physical labour.

The system offers a new level of efficiency, equipment resilience and strength, improved oyster quality and shelf life, environmental improvement and biofouling control. It can be adapted to many growing environments and grows very high-quality oysters in an environment (deep water) not normally associated with high quality production.

This has resulted in better quality oysters for export and enables oyster farms all around the world, including the Pannell’s Marlborough Oysters which grows 15 million oysters each year, to operate year-round.

FlipFarm Systems make biofouling control more efficient, as whole surfaces of the baskets and the oysters in them can be flipped up to dry - killing biofouling and unwanted pests like the predatory flatworms that try to wriggle their way between the shells of feeding oysters.

The benefits don’t stop there - FlipFarm has also made a career in oyster farming more attractive to a wider demographic - it’s no longer a job for those willing to do hard, physical work. Typically, the work was suitable for physically fit workers. The introduction of FlipFarm’s technology has led to a more diverse and experienced team focused on constant improvement and efficiency and quality.

The recent Award follows FlipFarm Systems being named the 2021 Future Development Innovation Award winner by Seafood New Zealand as well as achieving a coveted ‘Good Design’ award from Good Design Australia earlier in the year.

Debbie Pannell says the recent accolades not only recognise the ingenuity of the NZ-made technology, but also the community of the Marlborough region for their continued support.

"Many people have been involved in developing and implementing the FlipFarm System. Our dedicated team has worked with us on bringing our ideas to life. We couldn’t think of anywhere better in the world than Marlborough to be growing oysters and launch this world-leading technology," she says.

"We look forward to continuing our mission to deliver world class aquaculture solutions to the most sustainable and exciting industry in the world!"

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